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Schooling Abroad

sixth form studentsFor many expatriate families in Dubai, the issue of schooling weighs heavily. The system itself is difficult to navigate and academic standards vary massively across institutions, creating a need for incredible vigilance when prowling prospectuses. Even after a seemingly dream school has been identified, places will inevitably be in short supply; massive over-subscription has led to formidable waiting lists with uncertain outcomes. School hunting in Dubai is labour-intensive and difficult, a war of attrition that can wear out even the stout of heart. When this process goes askew, it is sometimes necessary to seek alternative routes. For many, UK boarding schools present an attractive solution.

Like Dubai, the UK’s admissions system is notoriously difficult. However, in many ways, its emphasis on aptitude and raw talent make it a more manageable and democratic process. Most schools have replaced school lists (whereby a child is registered for a place at birth) with the ‘pre-selection’ model, which involves a series of written tests and interviews. Although a daunting prospect at the onset, passing these exams is an attainable goal. Specialist consultancies, such as Carfax Private Tutors, deal with just this process and have a broad history of helping families identify the most suitable school for their young, then preparing their children to the necessary standards.

Sean Gilbert, one of Carfax’s private tutors says: “In many ways, the difficulty of the common entrance exams is actually a reassuring sign, it gives you an early sense of the academic rigor the schools both expect and promise to maintain. Challenging entrance exams also level the playing field, giving everyone an equal opportunity to gain admission. However, this is not to negate the importance of prepping. Even the brightest students need to learn certain formalities or ‘rules’ when doing these exams in order to maximise marks. They also need to make mistakes and learn intuitively through trial and error.

‘There are some excellent resources out there to help this process; Gallore Park produce fantastic practise exams and it is advisable to perform a few dry runs. Tutoring also produces fantastic results as it provides an opportunity to hone and target key areas of weakness. When looking for tutors, one should seek somebody with both experience with the system as well as chemistry with the your child; the period is inevitably stressful, but it should be exciting as well and pupils should feel inspired”.

Schooling abroad, of course, is not a suitable option for all. Many children will be reluctant to board away from home just as many families will be hesitant to dispatch their young to foreign shores. As has been widely reported of late, there is a growing trend of parents sending their children to the UK at university level, after schooling them domestically. The race for university places is intense and many students will have been prepping for years. UK students are usually at an advantage here, given that their teachers will have greater familiarity with the system.

Again, the key is to define your goals early and work towards these. For Russel Group universities, there is always an element of strategy involved. Sixth forms play a pivotal role in guiding the application and families should be incredibly selective when selecting an institution. Indeed, in the UK, it is common practise to change schools for A-Levels to ensure that the student is in a competitive environment.

When evaluating sixth forms, one needs to look beyond test score averages and explore the type of support the school offers across the board. Interview practise, advisors to help with UCAS preparation and a decent range of extra-curricular activities could all be of vital importance. Many universities will expect students to demonstrate passion for their chosen subject and to be able to substantiate this through concrete achievements or uses of their spare time. The schools should be taking a more holistic view of the candidate, and provide them with opportunities and platforms to demonstrate their potential. They should also be keeping a close eye on the personal statement and supplementary essays as this what essentially delineates one candidate from the next.

Chris Gyngell, of Carfax Private Tutors, has a few tips to make the application stand out. “You need to go beyond the course, grade inflation makes it less likely to gain a place based on scores alone. This is something that most students in England have understood and they will be doing everything they can to make their application stand out; from undertaking extra-curricular activities, to volunteering to sit extension papers for their best A-Levels. The personal statement is your vehicle for demonstrating this passion and is therefore of pivotal importance”.

Article Courtesy of

Sean Gilbert
Carfax Private Tutors

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